If you E-mail Paul Jones, you will receive an auto-response explaining why the journalism professor at University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill (UNC) quit using E-mail on June 1, 2011—and why there must be a better way to communicate.
In a phone interview, Jones says he stopped E-mailing because his inbox was clogged by computer-generated spam.
"When I started using E-mail 25 years ago, I sent mail to people, and people sent mail to me," he says. "Now Amazon sends me mail telling me I just ordered a book. I know I just ordered a book, you idiot, I still have the browser open!"
Some recent research suggests that college students may increasingly share Jones's view of E-mail as "a complete time sink." A 2010 Pew Internet report finds that 11 percent of 12-to-17-year-olds exchange daily E-mails with friends, and 54 percent text message daily. A white paper released in early 2011 by the Internet marketing research company, comScore, charts a 59 percent decline in E-mail use by 12-to-17-year-olds in 2010.
But according to the recently released National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, which surveyed 3,000 students at 1,179 colleges and universities, 39 percent of respondents wish their professors used E-mail more often, and 75 percent send or receive an average of 25 E-mails a day.
"In many ways, good old E-mail is the common denominator that people have," says Susan Grajek, vice president for data, research, and analytics at EDUCAUSE, the nonprofit that published the study and promotes "intelligent use" of information technology in higher education.
Brittni Lowery, a sophomore involved in her dorm's Hall Council at University of South Florida, agrees.
More than 95 percent of the 50 to 100 students who provided an E-mail address to the Council used a campus address, she says.
"E-mail is definitely still the best way to get in touch with everyone," Lowery says.
[Read 18 etiquette tips for E-mailing your professor.]
Whatever technology trends lurk ahead, there are a variety of ways students can calibrate and supplement their campus E-mail to ensure they are reading important messages and avoiding spam. Here are five tips to get you started.
1. Outsource your campus E-mail: Four of the 20 students in a class Jones taught at UNC last year told him they share their campus E-mail passwords with their parents, so the parents can manage the E-mails. To ensure their privacy, they tell friends not to E-mail that account.
"The college gives them an E-mail address and says, 'You're supposed to do this for official business and take this really seriously,' so naturally they don't use it," Jones says. "Since campus E-mail is from the man, why not let the man read it?"
[Learn why parents should stop hovering over college-bound kids.]
2. Follow your school via social media: Sree Sreenivasan, dean of student affairs at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and one of 35 top social media "influencers" identified by the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism school, says students wrestling with crowded inboxes should turn to social media.
"Follow the school on Twitter and Facebook so that you can keep up with what they are sending out," says Sreenivasan. Students should subscribe to their school's Google Calendar, or, if there is none, encourage the school to create one, he adds.
3. Create filters and folders: American University (AU) senior Chloë Troia says the amount of E-mail she receives from AU isn't the problem, so much as the "dense, long-winded content" of the E-mails.
[Learn why colleges get mixed reviews when using Twitter for customer service.]
Troia, who is president of the AU Social Media Club, suggests organizing campus E-mail boxes by creating folders, so E-mails don't clog the primary inbox, and students can sift through the folders at their leisure.
Other professors and students suggested creating folders for each professor and administrator, or for each course.
4. Forward E-mails to an external server or smartphone: Jose Navarro, a junior at Berkeley College, says he forwards his school E-mails to his personal Gmail address.
"I rarely open the actual school E-mail—maybe twice every quarter," he says.
Navarro says students who choose to forward their E-mails should ensure the destination E-mail address isn't marking messages from their school as spam or junk, a suggestion that Sreenivasan echoes.
[Learn about the 15 most wired college campuses.]
Sreenivasan adds that Gmail has the perk of letting users toggle between accounts. "You can have multiple identities within Gmail, so you can respond as if you are writing back from your college address," he says.
Caroline Radaj, a senior at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, encourages students to have their campus E-mail accounts forward messages to their smartphones, but urges them to set their phones to receive E-mails only when they manually refresh their E-mail applications.
"If I had my phone at automatic push, I would constantly be bombarded with E-mails," she says.
5. Unsubscribe from whatever you can: Jones, the UNC professor who quit E-mail, says students tend to arrive on campus wanting to be involved in everything. Before subscribing to too many newsletters, students should consider how difficult it is to remove themselves from those lists, he says.
"The hard part is going and turning off all these [newsletters], but that's probably the most productive thing you can do to reduce your mailbox size," he says.
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